In commemoration of the 308th anniversary of the founding of Yuan Ming Yuan, 1709-2017

French chivalry in Peking?
Count D'Hérisson (1839-1898) was secretary and interpreter to General Montauban, commander of the French forces in the Anglo-French expedition to China (known as the Second Opium War or the Arrow War) in 1860. D'Herisson was among the first group of French and British officers to enter the Summer Palace on a survey tour before the looting started. During the subsequent loot from 6th to 9th October 1860, D'Hérisson happened to be around the man-made lake Fuhai, the main lake in the Summer Palace. In the following (3 pages) he described how he delivered 27 Chinese court ladies, who were hiding in a palace on the island in the middle of the lake, out of Yuan Ming Yuan amidst the chaos.

(The following is an excerpt from: D'Hérisson, Count. "The Loot of the Imperial Summer Palace at Pekin." In Smithsonian Institution Annual Report 1900 (1901), pp. 601-635. Translated from French.)

Description of the Garden AND when, after passing through the apartments given over to pillage, I emerged in the park, the spectacle of nature in its eternal tranquillity made me shudder on coming from this furnace, like a cold plunge as we step from a Turkish bath. Here and there in the park were groups running toward the palaces, the pagodas, and the libraries. Alas!

But the great lake was silent, deserted; its aquatic palace and its row of gondolas abandoned.

"I am going to see what there is in there," said I to myself, looking at the island. I jumped disrespectfully into the imperial gondola, lacquered on the exterior, and lined in the interior with yellow silk, like a glove box, and I set myself to sculling energetically toward the palace, which I shall not describe, first, because it was exactly like all the others I had seen, and, secondly, because the reader must be wearied with descriptions already.

I leaped ashore, fastened my boat to a carved post, and, mounting three steps of white marble, I entered the principal room, entirely surrounded by sofas made of large cushions covered with yellow damask and resembling Turkish divans.

I inhaled the air, which smelled very sweet, too sweet to have been subjected solely to the breeze from the lake for two entire days. With my hand on my saber I listened, for I thought I heard half-smothered sighs. I examined the yellow cushions, and they had suspicious humps. I kicked one off; a sharp cry rang out, and a woman suddenly appeared, crouching on the ground like a little rabbit, costumed in those delicate and costly hand-embroidered silks that are made for ladies of high rank. She stood at the foot of the bed, prostrating herself, bowing until her forehead touched the earth, showing only her black hair, secured by golden hairpins.

If you have never seen a man in an embarrassing position, imagine me, standing up there, my hand on my sword, and this woman at my feet.

To induce her to rise, I contented myself with saying in Chinese, "Have no fear; I will do you no harm." She rose on her two little feet, a lovely creature, twenty years of age, dressed like an empress.

As no cry from the pretty child had as yet indicated that she feared for her life, the humps of the other mattresses began to increase in size. Heads of women began to appear, and little by little their bodies, and a small crowd surrounded me, beating the matting with their pretty foreheads. There were twenty-seven women.


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From the Gardener, Louis Chor. Canada, June 2000. Corrected July 2000. Updated December 2016